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Image of Voices of Silence

Jimmy Ernst (aka Hans-Ulrich Ernst)
American, born Germany, 1920–1984

Voices of Silence


Object Type: Painting
Creation Place: North America, American, New York
46 1/2 in. x 76 1/4 in. (118.11 cm x 193.68 cm)
Medium and Support: Oil on canvas
Accession Number: 1989.0002.0012

Credit Line: Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama, The Blount Collection

Currently On View
Copyright: © The Estate of Jimmy Ernst / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In 1961 Ernst went to the Soviet Union as a visiting specialist in the U.S. State Department’s cultural exchange program. While there, he saw the grave of the author and poet Boris Pasternak, who had died the year before. This experience prompted Ernst to paint several memorials to Pasternak, including "Voices of Silence". Like Ernst, Pasternak had grown up in the cultured and literary environment of a Jewish family. His 1956 novel Doctor Zhivago was banned in the U.S.S.R. because of its realistic treatment of life during the revolutionary era. When he was nominated for a Nobel Prize, Pasternak was ejected from the writer’s union and deprived of official recognition. Although never expelled, he was denied his livelihood and condemned by the Soviet state. Doctor Zhivago was not released in Russia until 1987, twenty-seven years after the author’s death. Ernst’s composition implies a vacant space, shattered and fractured, much as the society of the Soviet Union was by political persecution in the 1960s. Voices such as Pasternak’s were routinely silenced by a system intolerant of dissidence.

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